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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



everyone’s a critic: eddie izzard in san francisco

I never say anything about a performance I’ve just watched until I’m about half a mile from the venue. I’m not entirely sure why. I always used to think it was because I was scared that my scathing appraisal would be overheard by somebody’s doting mother, and she would knife me or tut loudly or somesuch.

But really that’s unlikely to be the real reason, because I’m not even very negative when I’m safely in the car. I start with an insufferable sigh, and then start obsessing about tiny points in the act that no-one else noticed, but which I’ll then blow up into huge theoretical frameworks of the nature of drama. At no point will I really give away whether I had fun or not.

Really, though, at comedy, I almost always have fun. I love going to see terrible comedians, and I love seeing brilliant comedians, and I’m usually canny enough to avoid seeing all the boring stuff in the middle. My favorite gigs are where the terrible comedians suddenly becoming brilliant, as though ridden by Loa, and when brilliant comedians failing miserably, all their clever tricks and mischeviousness failing like corked wine.

Eddie Izzard was about the fifth reason I gave up comedy, maybe 15 years ago, because he was already a master at a style we only haphazardly ever managed to pull off.

Our internal name for it was “barely rehearsed”, which I think was a term we pulled out of a glowing, but confused reviewer who simply could not understand why he was enjoying such rank amateurism.

The trick with being barely rehearsed is to have a firm structure with maybe five perfectly-rehearsed set pieces that you can hop to, with the rest broadly improvising around some key call-backs and themes and set pieces. The two tricks are knowing when to hop out of the improvised bits, and — and here is the HIDEOUS DECEPTIVENESS OF ALL ART — how to suitably disguise which bits are improvised, and which are not.

The beauty of hiding the joins is partly it makes everything seamless and ironically uncontrived, but most of all because you get the constant extra points everyone gets for improvising, and apply them to the multiplier of actually having worked it all out before hand. Some comedians feel that this is a cheat, but every comedian thinks the tricks that others use are cheats, and while their own are perfectly acceptable “comedic shorthand”, so there you go.

I think most people marvel at Eddie Izzard’s ability to go on extended flights of improvised fancy, but I (being special and uniquely insightful) m more admiring of his ability to back out of them as they crash and burn, while still holding the audience’s attention. He’s also fantastic at managing the segue between improvisation and set-piece. Nobody in the audience seemed to notice (only I, being special and brilliantly perceptive, etc) that he wasn’t pulling off either last night that well. It was like those bits where really awesome acrobats actually fall off their perches into the big net; I don’t think it really distracts from the show, but you can sense people having to donate some of their good will to get the show back on tracks.

Anyway, it was a good show which you can see often has better nights. It plays a bit safe with the material, but you know, anyone with ten minutes on Wikipedia, EULAs and iTunes auto-upgrade policy is going to win me over. If he starts doing “Scrappy Doo” material in a panic, just let it ride over you, and concentrate on his brilliant physical gestalts which still rock.

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petit disclaimer:
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